Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A World of Ebooks

I would love to hear your perspective on the topic of e-readers and their impact on us as social creatures. Growing up, I was surrounded by books, and to this day I love to touch, feel, and read them . I gauged whether a man was "date-worthy" depending on not only whether he had a library of books but more important, whether he read the classics. Have you ever spied on someone at the grocery store and painted a fairly quick picture of them based on what they purchased? The same goes with personal libraries.

My son was born last year and I try to envision what the world will be like when he's my age (41) and everyone's library is stored in a small electronic device. If you want to draw a
New Yorker-style cartoon in your head, the future home libraries will still have the overstuffed leather chair and the tasteful red Persian carpet. The bookshelves stand empty and in one stands a lone Kindle.

Respecting your thoughts and opinions, I would love to hear what you think about e-books and the inevitable death of the paper book and hope to read a blog one day on this topic.

The strangest thing about this question is that on the same morning this landed in my inbox I had been thinking the same thing. I was walking down the stairs in my house eyeing the bookshelf overflowing with books and wondering if my children and their children and their children’s children would love books a little less because they won’t be surrounded by them?

As a child I too was surrounded by books and was often encouraged to read based on the books in the bookshelves around me. In other words, the books themselves inspired me to read. I remember sitting at friends’ houses and scouring their bookshelves, and like this reader, I remember gauging my interest in other people based on what they read. In fact, I remember meeting people and talking to strangers on the subway all because one of us was reading a certain book.

I do think that a world of e-readers will change that and I hope it doesn’t change things for the worse. Will children, will people, be less inspired to read because they don’t have walls of books to grab their interest? Will strangers avoid spontaneous conversation because an e-reader has no cover and there’s no way to know what someone is reading, there’s no opening for an offhand comment about the book one is reading?

I guess, when you think about it, it’s a little like the loss of the front porch. There was a time when the front porch was the heart of a neighborhood. People didn’t drive everywhere, they walked. People didn’t sit inside, in the air-conditioning, in front of TVs, they sat on the front porch to keep cool and talked to neighbors as they passed by. In fact, they sat on the front porch and read books.

I like my e-book. I still really like paper books. I certainly think e-books are the wave of the future, but I’m not entirely convinced they are going to fully replace paper books any time soon. I don’t know what’s going to happen to readers and to “the love of books.” But it certainly does give one much to think about.



N. Gemini Sasson said...

Libraries have been things of value since ancient times. There's something solid and confirming about the physical presence of books, so it's sad to think of them becoming less present in our daily lives. But the flip side is that - like computers resurrecting the art of writing to where there's more of it than ever - it's also possible that books, including the classics will become even more accessible because of technology. I know I have to think long and hard about buying a hardback, not only due to the cost, but where am I going to store yet another book? E-books are not only cheaper, but greener. And they open up a world of new talent. My teenage daughter can easily read a book a day. She'd be in heaven if she had an e-reader.

Mark Terry said...

We've had an iPad since it came out and I recently invested in a Kindle. (I wrote a comparison on my blog, for anyone who's interested). Yet... the more I read electronically, the more I value paper. Yes, it's fun to read a book electronically, and the instant gratification aspect of thinking, "Oh yeah, that book, let's buy it--zap!" is nice, if a bit TOO convenient. Yet there really is something to be said about the heft and feel of a paper book, of no need for batteries or electricity, of being able to glance at a shelf looking for some title or cover art that catches your eye. And given the peculiarities of e-book formatting, I'm wondering if not only bookstores and libraries will die, but the art of a well-laid-out manuscript.

Edie Ramer said...

I recently bought a Kindle. Though I enjoy reading on it, if I read a "keeper" book, I know I'll also buy it in print. I already do that with library books. There are books I love so much I want to physically hold them, and it makes me happy to see them on my shelves.

Chris Catledge said...

I have a Kindle and I wouldn't part with it for the world. I'll admit there are some books I want but are not available on Kindle and my plan is to wait it out until it's available. When it comes to books that I know I'll treasure, be it a favorite classic or a favorite author, I'll purchase it at the bookstore. I haven't lost wanting the distinguishing features of a book. E-books are, for me, the paperback of books--almost like reading magazines. When I want a hardcover, I want to keep it forever and therefore an e-book won't do.

Sheila Connolly said...

I hadn't thought about it before, but the process of browsing with an e-reader is different than wandering through a library or bookstore and picking up random books and riffling through them.

No one censored my reading when I was young, and as a result I read some books that were way beyond my comprehension. But I did read them, and still remember them (The Little Prince stands out--I picked it up at a vacation cottage when I was eight and read it because it had funny pictures).

Will we lose that wonderful serendipity if we go all-electronic?

John Baron said...

My wife and I read extensively to my son from when he was a baby until junior year in high school. He read by himself, as well. Now he's just graduated from college, and no longer reads for enjoyment. He's planning on a family (after he finds someone to marry!) and I feel sure he'll read to his children as we did. We still have many of the books we read, from Winnie the Pooh to The Lord of The Rings, ready to hand them over at the proper time. But I can't help picturing him reading to his children from an e-reader. It'll be a different generation, though (I hope) not the less for it.

Michelle Miller said...

Just as photography didn't kill paintings, tv didn't kill movies, and e-mail didn't kill snail mail, e-books will not spell the end of the paper book. A balance will be reached and both will survive. We as a species are too much collectors to be satisfied with having our books disappear into the ether.

Lynn M said...

In the book "Freakonomics", authors Levitt and Dubner have an essay in which they propose - through their studies - that children who are surrounded by books at home actually do better at school. Doesn't matter if they actually read all of the books, but there is an impact. I'm highly summarizing their thoughts, but it's an essay worth reading.

I think it's going to take very, very long time before ereaders start to replace books to any significant degree. If you'll recall, once PCs became so prevalent, people predicted the end of paper - that no one would ever need to keep written/printed documentation. But there is still a lot of paper out there.

Too, we here who are very plugged into the internet tend to forget that a lot of people are not so computer savvy or even inclined. The price and complexity of ereaders and ebooks are going to be a huge barrier to wide-spread acceptance.

I'm not going to start building my bomb shelter just yet.

Jessica Peter said...

I don't believe ebooks are going to replace paper books any time in my lifetime (and I'm still in my 20's), and I don't think that's just wishful thinking. I haven't gotten an e-reader of any sort yet, but it's on my list for my one of my next large-ish purchases. I think e-readers will enhance the reading experience but that books will still be there. And I love the example of "photography didn't kill painting". I'm going to use that one! Even though photography did mostly kill portrait painting. . . but I digress.

Joseph L. Selby said...

The desire to see what books people read or to see what book they are reading at that instant is a two-way street. It's often commented that people like others to see what they're reading as well. There have been proposals and attempts at designing readers that actually have a rear screen that shows the cover of what you're reading (abandoned because the cost to value was prohibitive to the device).

As so much of our social life migrates online (Facebook, et al.) there are already virtual bookshelves that let you list books you own, upload the list of books on your reader, and even chose which books are stacked and which are front-faced. We will, in the future, still be able to peruse a person's bookshelf, and we will be able to do it without even going to their home.

Eric at Pimp My Novel had a wonderful idea of libraries supplanting brick and mortar book stores with POD vending machines for those people who still prefer their books on paper. I think that's a visionary idea.

@Jessica Peter: Unless you have an illness or are in an accident, ebooks will become the dominant delivery method of text within your lifetime. I'm not just talking 50%. 80% or more of books will be sold in ebook form by the time you retire.

Kate Douglas said...

I have books on my shelves that belonged to my grandmother, a lot of books that were my father's. I still reread them. I have ebooks on my hard drive in a format I can no longer read because I gave my Rocket Ebook reader away. Formats change. Power goes out and you can't retrieve a file, but you can still read a print book with a flashlight. Granted, those backlit readers are great on a camping trip, but to me, being surrounded by shelves loaded with my favorite books is a very special kind of personal wealth. And, as an author, staring at a screen is how I work all day. To relax at the end of the day, I love the feel of that solid, printed book in my hands. It will be awhile before I can really embrace ebooks, even though my first publishing experience was with epublishers back in 1998 when very few people even knew what an ebook was. My loyalty still lies with my long time printed friends.

Unknown said...

Great discussion! I've been going back and forth with the readers on my blog about the very same thing, and it's great to see it articulated so well by Eric and all of the readers here on BookEnds.

While I don't think paper books will ever die completely, I do think they are going to become the stuff for collectors only. I like to compare it to what's happened to music.

Digital music is by far the most consumed medium for music. However, there are still folks who prefer the sound quality of the old 45s. There are niche stores in every major city that still cater to those people, and new albums are still released on those formats on a limited scale. It's basically an expensive hobby.

Books will be much the same way; only collectors will have the resources to seek out paper books. If the new hardback you covet is going to set you back $50 and 40 mile round-trip, which it may in 10 years, how likely are you to buy it over a $5 digital copy? How important is smelling, tasting, etc. a real book to you? For many, it won't even be an option.

For everyone that fears reading is going to somehow die due to a lack of physical books in the home, relax. If television, video games, and texting haven't killed the art of reading for fun (I work with middle schoolers, they still read believe it or not), nothing will.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

The smell of a bookstore, the hushed hum of the library, I would miss them. I like to see how many pages I have read and how many I have left.
Like my round kitchen clock, vs. the digital on the microwave. I see the time which has elapsed and I can judge how much time I have left, I don’t like countdowns.

Velcro on my kids sneakers might be quicker and more convenient but sometimes…bows just look better.

I hope you are wrong and jess is right.
Remember 9:11, power out, cell phones overloaded, no communication.
Do not put all you eggs in your technological basket. And don't tell me eggs go bad out of the fridge because people have been eating eggs for thousands of years.

Seen any good cave drawings lately or read any good stone tablets; books don't last forever but
no plugs, no batteries, no reading, scary thought.

Heidi @ Decor & More said...

I am a self-professed "book junkie" but I like the real deal. Browsing shelves in bookstores or my friends' and acquaintances' homes is a delight to me. I love to hold them, turn the pages, smell them, pass them on to neighbors and friends. I hope the e-books don't ever fully replace the traditional paper book, much like I hope online news sites don't ever fully replace newspapers and magazines.

Spy Scribbler said...

I think paper will never fully go out of style. I'm hoping that books will become beautiful again. I remember, as a child, I had a set of books with gold-leafing on the edges. Oh WOW! I spent hours! I was so fascinated about that, and treasured those books.

In that library, I think they'll be at least one shelf of beautifully-bound books, produced so well they're practically works of art: hand-stitched, illustrations, gold-leafing, leather cover, shiny paper...

Stephanie said...

I too believe there is room for both paper and ereaders. I have a Kindle and to be honest I don't read as quickly on it. I don't like the page turning. I do think IPad resolved that, but I'm not spending that kind of money on what is basically a "toy" for me.

I prefer the old fashioned books. I too love the feel and smell of them. I like to browse book stores and come out with my bag heavy. I also like to loan out books from time to time. I buy an inordinate amount of books and my friends who don't like to buy books come to me when they need something to read.

That being said I also believe that ereaders will get some people reading that previously didn't. As it is a more "cool" way to read for young people raised in the technological era.

For me though I will save my Kindle for my business trips and keep the paper books.

Amy said...

I think a related change is that people are going to buy more "guilty pleasure" books because no longer are they going to have think about the image they are projecting when they carry the book around in public. So romance and erotica sales should go up. Sales of books meant not to be read but to make a house/bookshelf look erudite will go down.

Tracy said...

I love my Nook and can't believe I fought against the idea of owning one for so long, but I'm like Edie. My e-books are a testing ground for me of new author's, genres, etc. When finding a book I really enjoy and know I'll want to read again, I MUST have it in physical form. Same holds true for all works from my faves.

My future bookshelves may be a bit smaller, but they'll be even more cherished.

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

Great front porch analogy--

My husband and I were talking about this last week. I think/hope they can co-exist.
Is having a record the same as listening to a symphony perform? Is looking up Van Gogh's paintings on the internet the same as visiting a museum and seeing the brushstrokes?

Also, environmentally, e-readers aren't necessarily better than paper. Electronics are created to be replaced, like computers. They are filled with metals and materials that can be toxic and are often not disposed of properly. Not to mention they're mined by children in developing countries for pennies...

On a tangent, sorry.

I think the visceral pleasure of reading will endure.

Steven Till said...

There was also a time when people thought television would kill radio, but it never happened. I do believe e-books will become larger and larger in the upcoming years, but I don't think paper books will ever be replaced. I think media like radio and newspapers have been under more pressure from advanced technologies than paper books will ever be. Newspapers with Internet news sites and radio with, not television, but portable music players (e.g. - ipods, iphones, etc.).

Anonymous said...

My 76 year old mother is reading Laura Bush's new book on her ipad. For two hours, she told me all about it on her iphone the other night until my head was hanging. And I know she discusses this e-book (and others) with everyone from the dry cleaner to the ladies in the Red Hat Society.

This past weekend friends and neighbors gathered at my house in my new outdoor living space to celebrate the 4th. We sat around the new open concept fireplace on comfortable, cushioned chairs and talked about the books we're reading on our e-reading devices.

Things change.

Personally, I'll take indoor plumbing over an outhouse any day :)

Bon said...

I agree with those who say a balance will be found. I read on my iPad but I also buy physical books when I know it will be one I'll reread.

I read with my kids on the iPad, which they think is cool, but in no way stops them from hauling the entire contents of their bookshelf into bed at night. Seriously, they start with 2 or 3 that I know about and I have to dig them out come morning.

One aspect I love about my ereader is how much more I read now. The instant access and lower price point have me reading well outside of my comfort zones and I for one think that is a very good thing.

Eileen said...

The cost of paper books will have a large impact on their continued existence. The cost to produce, ship and then handle returns will increase as print runs decrease (it is always cheaper to print more than less). Print runs will decrease because a percentage of books will be bought electronically. As the cost of paper books goes up and the cost of e-readers goes down more people will buy e-readers.

As someone else mentioned- I believe you will always have the option to buy a book in print, but the cost will be more significant as it will be a limited item.

I'll be surprised if this change takes much longer than 5-10 years. Don't get me wrong- I love print books, but the economics will drive the situation. One the upside I buy more books now that I have an ereader. Poor impulse control where books are concerned.

CFD Trade said...

This reminds me of the movie of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, You Got I really felt sad when the shop around the corner had to close because of a bigger and more contemporary shop had opened. The ambiguity of saying goodbye and holding on to the beauty of the past...we just have to befriend the future lest we do not live and enjoy what is now...

joanQ6 said...

Do you remember the advent of e-mail? I, for one, wondered why I'd send an electronic message when I could just pick up the phone and leave a voice mail. Over time, each found its own place, and e-mail has continued to evolve with the advent of sites like Facebook and Twitter.

I think we're witnessing the same shift with e-books. They do not have to REPLACE physical books, but over time each will find its niche.

I've been using a Kindle for two years now, mainly for the stream of mysteries that I consume on a daily basis. But when I need a reference, or want to read a book over and over again, I buy the hardback version.

For me, this is an exciting time. I can't wait to see how this story turns out.

Mira said...

I'm funny this way. I really don't feel nostagia for books, although I love them. I understand that many people do, but I just don't...

I was thinking yesterday how wonderful it will be to have all the storage space cleared up.

Whenever I buy a book, I then have to figure out what to do with it. Do I save it? Give it to the library or a friend? Recycle it? It's kind of a pain, having all those books lying around, even though I feel affection for many of them. And dusting them!

What I want is easy and instant access, without the clutter! So, I think I'm an e-book type of gal. :)

JVRC said...

We said the same thing about those lovely vinyl records when CDs came along. We said the same thing about letters when email came along. We also made the leap because the new technology had more positives than negatives.

I have my Kindle and I love it. I can take my entire library with me where ever I go. It's green--no trees were cut down, no rain forests destroyed. And pricing is a whole lot easier on the pocket book, believe me.

I still get hard covers--I'm a hard cover snob. But I save those for the books that I really love, series that I want to keep for posterity. But as someone who's moved a lot, carting those puppies is exhausting.

It's time to move to the new millenium, new technology.

Joseph L. Selby said...

I hope you are wrong and jess is right.
Remember 9:11, power out, cell phones overloaded, no communication.
Do not put all you eggs in your technological basket. And don't tell me eggs go bad out of the fridge because people have been eating eggs for thousands of years.

None of these things have any impact on ereaders. The content exists in your device. If you're using a reader, your battery lasts for days. If you're using your phone, you don't need service to read the book. They're little mini-computers that let you read.

Sure people can dream up apocalyptic scenarios where ereaders will be useless, but the same can be done for paper books. It's a fruitless exercise.

PatriciaW said...

Redefine "surrounded". Books will be at our children's fingertips in ways I only wish they had been at mine. We will still have physical books. We'll just think about them differently, perhaps more as keepsakes and thereby, increasing their lifetime value.

But really, how many of the books one owns are actually re-read? For me, that's where ebooks have a place--for books that I have a passing interest in or that I need to carry with me, like the Bible. Physical books will be for things that have longevity in my life, books I know I will re-read and treasure or those I will reference a lot, like cookbooks.

Mark Terry said...

As I read through the comments, I just want to point out something that as as former scientist and current science/medical writer, that I want to question. I don't specifically have an answer, but I definitely have the question:

Are e-readers really "greener" than paper books?

I honestly doubt it. As someone mentioned, the batteries in the readers are probably lithium-ion, also possibly nickel, so mining's involved. As well as plastics, which is a petroleum-based product, & the manufacturing processes that build the devices themselves. And electricity which charges the batteries and fuels the server farms that handle all the storage for companies like Amazon, et al., which in the U.S. primarily comes from the burning (and mining) of coal.

So although I think there are probably a number of reasons to like e-books and e-readers, I'm very skeptical of the "they're more environmental" argument.

They don't involve cutting down trees, but paper is typically made of trees that aren't high-end and grow fast so they can be replanted and farmed.

Peg Cochran said...

If e-readers had existed while I was commuting three hours per day (train & subway) I would have loved having one! And still, when the budget allows, I wouldn't mind getting one.
But for me books are also a decorating element! I have a wall of them in my family room. The colors are so welcoming, and the memories are all there out on the shelf.

M.R.J. Le Blanc said...

I doubt very much ereaders will replace books entirely. A lot of people gave some great examples, and I remember when they tried to come out with tinier versions of CDs - that sure didn't last long. Not every technological advance is going to be a better option. Sometimes when the shiny new feeling fades people will drift back to what they had before. There will be people who prefer ereaders, people who prefer books, and people who'll use both. Everything has its place.

As for greener, well no they're not. Like others have said, their production and their contents don't make them greener - in fact it might even make them less so. If we want to go down the greener road, we should look at alternatives to trees as a paper source. They're out there.

Anonymous said...

I'll have to say that I've been addicted to books for well over 50 years. There's something about the smell, the texture, the tactile sensations that an electronic device cannot evoke. I derive pleasure (!?) from running my fingers over the lines of text in an old book and feeling the "bite" of the impressions of the letters that were actually printed on the page. It's wonderful to pick up a 100+year-old book in a junk shop and feeling a connection to the original owner as you are seeing and feeling something that eyes long dead and hands long dust also saw and felt. Books have souls; when I am in my library by myself I never feel alone.

Cheryl said...

The times they are a-changing.

Remember when every town had at least one record store? Well, take a look at how many you see now.

Yes, I think there will always be printed books for the ones who want them. But more and more people are going, not just to Kindles and Nooks and iPads, but to their iPhones. How handy is it to pull up a book on your phone while you're waiting to be called in the doctor's office? And then later on while you wait for your spouse to meet you the restaurant, pull the book you were reading up to right where you left off?

Bookstores are going to have to adapt or go the way of record stores.

Amy said...

I'm big into technology, but I'm not sold on the e-book just yet.

First of all, I sit at a computer all day long at work, and then into the evening with my own writing, so I really dont want to stare at something bright like a screen when I'm switching into relaxation and escape mode.

Second, I love books. I love taking them to bed, out by the pool, and to the beach. I don't have to worry about batteries going dead, or them getting wet. I even love the little things around the house that I use for book marks,like: my daughters photo, a movie stub, or a ribbon off a bouquet of flowers. That one little book mark helps me remember something special if only for a second. I also love the covers of a book. I love reading the description of a character in a book, and turning to the cover to see if the model captured what the author was seeing/feeling.

I don't think I will ever be swayed from paper books. I think the e-book makes it difficult for me to downshift from work mode to relaxation mode, so I'll always love a good book!

Man this comment made me want to hit the beach with a good romance novel! :)

jill said...

I wrote about this on my blog a couple of months ago. I love books ... the feel, the smell, the popping of the glue when you open it real wide. I like to see them lined up on my shelf and I love to curl up with one ... whether it is in front of a fire on a cold wintery night, or in a lawn chair under a tree trying to avoid the hot sun. And when I really love a book, I like to hug it. Could I hug an e-Reader?
Here's the link to my blog

My husband left a comment (which is really a lecture) about how books are wasting paper and impacting on the environment!

PS I love that you once determined a guy's date-worthiness by what he had read!! Wish I would have thought of it myself!

Annette Lyon said...

Yikes. I hadn't thought about e-books in terms of my kids.

Like how, just last night, my 8-yr-old browsed the bookshelves for something that looked fun that she hadn't read yet, wanting to read before bed.

That wouldn't be possible with e-books, not in the same way.

And the home library--again, yikes. When we moved, the FIRST boxes unpacked were my books, not because I was going to read each and every one, but because I needed them around me.

I love the technology and all it offers to writers, but dang.

arbraun said...

Although I love my e-reader, I love paper books more. I bought an e-book that didn't even give me a cover, and that says it all. Plus, my e-books don't have color covers. That's left me disappointed. I value the dynamic and sometimes shocking art on the front of paper books. I don't understand why they can't coexist. I liken it to getting rid of CDs in favor of everyone only using iPods.
I don't know if paper will go out like the 8-track or not, but I'm hearing from e-book experts that paper books are expected to die in five years now instead of ten. This makes me sad.

Matthew said...

I'll never give up on printed books--I find too much joy in browsing used book stores and having my shelves filled with entertainment.

But I do wish I had an e-reader when I lived abroad. It would've made things much easier.

LivelyClamor said...

I'm on the fence. I like being surrounded by books. I do thin them if there are some I've not read for years and think there's no chance I'll even look something little up in them. I have a friend trapped in a bad domestic situation because she can't move her book collections into a place she can afford. The places would be too small. But I caved in so badly to email it's a huge effort to me to write letters, and I caved in so badly to Facebook it's a huge effort for me to get my a$$ off the computer and do something productive. (Not blaming the media, it's my own damn fault, but it's something to think about for my particular mix of habits.) I also like random browsing which is harder to do electronically than in an actual library. And I do get drawn to books by their covers!

Unknown said...

eBooks are fab if, like me, whenever you go on holiday or even travel by train for a couple of hours, you can't decide which book to take and end up taking three times as many as you need. It's great to be able to reduce the weight in my bag and still be able to carry a library around with me.

Having said that, I adore books - the weight, the touch, the smell, even the way your back aches when you've been bent over the hardback you've been waiting for for months.

An eBook reader will never replace my library - the horror! Not to mention that if the device corrupts for whatever reason you lose a lifetime's worth of books.

For such flimsy things, eBooks are horrendously expensive at the moment. As they get more popular, I would love to see a business model whereby you buy the physical book, and inside you get a one-time use code to download the eBook for free (or a very nominal charge) so you can take it with you.